What does it mean to be an American? The answer is often buried or completely obscured in rhetoric, so that "being American" means being a Democrat to one person, being Republican to another, being pro-military, being a hippie, being individualistic, etc. In reality, an American is simply a citizen of the United States of America, and "being American" means fulfilling your duties as such.
Many Americans don't know they even have duties as citizens: the new civics course from Ray and Charlene Notgrass, Uncle Sam and You, makes students aware of citizens' duties, shows what those duties are, and explains why those duties should be embraced rather than ignored. And, as with all Notgrass products, instruction is undertaken from a conservative Christian perspective and with biblical truth always in mind.
How Does This Work?
Uncle Sam and You is intended for use with 5th-8th grade students. The course is comprised of two semesters worth of work for one normal school year; there are 15 units per semester, with five lessons per unit for a total of 150 lessons in all. Kids complete lessons on a daily basis, and the authors say the average student will take 45 minutes to an hour to complete each lesson.
There are two hardcover student textbooks, one for each semester. The texts are filled with full-color photographs, maps, etc., to make the highly readable text come even more alive. An answer key provides answers for all in-text questions and tests, while The Citizen's Handbook: Civics In Action provides supplemental essays, stories, speeches, and more. A Student Workbook and a Lesson Review book are both also available, but fully optional.
There are a handful of titles to be purchased separately (books like Basher Five-Two by Scott O'Grady and The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder) which illustrate or explore more fully important ideas presented in the curriculum. At the end of each chapter/lesson in the student texts, you'll be prompted to read the appropriate passages, as well as know when to take the tests and fill out the workbooks.
In each normal lesson, students read text, complete a "Thinking Biblically" assignment (usually reading or copying a Bible passage), learn vocabulary words, "Find Out!" about a topic through further research, and if desired complete pages in the Workbook or Lesson Review. There are also creative writing exercises, art projects, literature assignments, etc.
There are special "Holiday" lessons to be completed on or around both major and minor holidays, which are included at the end of both student texts. For these, there is simply text to read and then a family activity (often a game or art project) to complete. Because this is a civics curriculum, some of the selected holidays are a bit off most people's radar, like National Aviation Day and Law Day.
Uncle Sam and You can be used either as a student- or teacher-directed program. There is no teacher guide; all the instructions you need are in the lessons themselves, and most students will be able to understand and complete them entirely on their own. If you want to include younger students, the authors suggest you read the lessons aloud and include them in some of the activities.
The course content is both practical and educational. Kids learn about different jobs inside and outside the government, the history and nature of public service, what the military is and what it does, why we should vote, etc. In some ways, Uncle Sam and Youis more informational and less explicitly Christian throughout than other Notgrass offerings, though the authors do point students to Scripture as often as possible.
Students will learn primarily about good citizenship, responsibility, understanding how our country operates and how it's able to stay functional, and what they can hope to accomplish in the private sphere. This is probably best used after the America the Beautiful course from Notgrass, since some of the content assumes previous knowledge of American history and government structure.
Our Honest Opinion
There aren't many comprehensive civics courses out there, especially from a Christian perspective, and especially for younger students. Uncle Sam and You fills a hole, and while it's not perfect, it's solid, and will give your students a good taste of involvement in the civic square.
If there's a downside to the program, it's that there isn't a lot of help for those wanting to find ways to help out now, as students. There's plenty of information and kids will learn a lot, especially if they do all the activities (teachers are to pick and choose the most pertinent ones), but not much hands-on participation.
That said, there's no civics course we'd rather point you toward for non-high school students. We'd probably recommend it even for some high schoolers, especially since so few programs actually deal with the topic. Very Christian and very informational,Uncle Sam and You is yet another excellent offering from the folks at the Notgrass Company.
Eight works of literature are assigned in the Uncle Sam and You curriculum to give your student a richer perspective on the various topics studied. The student is usually given two weeks to read each book, with 1-3 chapters assigned each day. The first three books go with Part 1, and the next five books go with Part 2.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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